Saturday, July 2, 2011

André Kertész (July 2, 1894)

I've recently seen several exhibits of photos by André Kertész, and I marvel at his skill and imagination as a photographer. One of these was "On Reading," which included the image above. I saw this show at the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh last year; the exhibit was reviewed when it showed in London: "Opening the book on modern photography." From the review:
"With his Leica camera in hand, André Kertész wandered city streets, photographing people going about their daily lives. It helped him, he felt, come to terms with being an outsider, first as a Jew in early 20th-century Hungary, then as a émigré in Paris between the wars, and then in New York.

"...Reading formed an integral part of Kertész’s own life. According to Colin Ford, a friend and founding head of the National Media Museum in Yorkshire: 'André’s father was a bookseller. From the age of six or seven, he used to pore over magazines.'

"His interest in reading was also inspired by his Jewish background and its culture of praying and learning — one of the images in the show is of a couple walking past a painting of an Orthodox boy studying.

Kertész never forgot his background. 'His life as a Jewish exile was part of his melancholia, creating the feeling that ‘I’m in a place where I wish I wasn’t, that I’m not home.’ There is a sense of loneliness and alienation throughout his pictures,' says Ford."

More recently, I saw "An Intuitive Eye: André Kertész Photographs 1914-1969" at the Detroit Institute of Arts. As in "On Reading" I was overawed by his mastery of light and shadow, and by the drama he puts into every photo.

I don't see anything specifically Jewish in his work or know about his religious commitments (which appear to have been private), though I am aware that many of the great early-20th century photographers were, in fact, Jewish. I see him, thus, as a secular Jewish hero.

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